Betting scandal puts the election campaign in a state of ‘free fall’

For some battle-weary Conservative campaigners, the election betting scandal is just the latest in a misstep-filled campaign punctuated by polls predicting a Conservative win. was wiped out on July 4.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is facing heavy criticism from his own side for his handling of the case, amid growing calls for the suspension of three party figures being investigated by the Gambling Commission. .

“All Conservative I know I was angry and in disbelief,” said Tim Montgomerie, co-founder of the grassroots website ConservativeHome.

Sunak should “come to the microphone” with a scathing condemnation and show “a modicum of humanity”, he said. “Where is the raw emotion, the passion, the anger that we all feel?”

Two of the three people under investigation – Craig Williams, Sunak’s closest parliamentary aide, and Laura Saunders, a party staffer and wife of the Tory campaign manager – remain Conservative candidates in the contest. run for election. election.

The Prime Minister spent Thursday preparing for the BBC Question time appearance, where he faced questions from the studio audience. But his decision to withdraw gave the broadcasting rights to Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor Party. “If it was one of my candidates, they would be gone and their feet wouldn’t touch the floor,” Starmer said.

A former cabinet minister expressed contempt for Sunak: “It was absolutely terrible. Honestly, it seems like a failure of leadership.”

Campaign officials and Conservative MPs are bracing for the possibility of more party figures being named under investigation for election-related bets in the coming days.

A Conservative insider said “the party is in free fall” following the story, the latest in a series of problems to hit the Tory campaign.

The latest came on Thursday when Chris Skidmore, the former Conservative energy minister and author of the government’s net zero review, endorsed Labour. Write in the Guardianhe criticized Sunak for siding with climate deniers on net zero.

The decision not to drop Williams and Saunders as candidates has sparked anger from Conservative Party colleagues, who say the party’s support should be withdrawn, even though it will be too late to replace them in the July 4th ballot.

A series of sitting Conservative Party MPs and officials told the Financial Times that Williams and Saunders should be suspended, and that any other officials involved in the incident should face disciplinary action if they bet on elections using inside information.

Tony Lee, Saunders’ husband and the party’s campaign chief, conducted one on leave on Wednesday, the party confirmed. A person familiar with the matter said Lee is also being investigated by gambling regulators.

Sunak said last week that he was “very disappointed” in Williams but declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation into his ally.

But the former Cabinet minister accused the prime minister of trying to “hide behind the process”, adding: “It’s a very simple question: did they know this information in advance? If so, operations should be suspended. Voters have the right to know.”

However, party officials defended Sunak, saying it was up to voters to decide whether to elect Williams and Saunders.

During that time Question time event, Sunak said he was “extremely angry” when he learned of the allegations.

“It’s a really serious problem. It is true that they are being properly investigated by the relevant law enforcement agencies, including a criminal investigation by the police,” he told the audience when asked about the matter.

The Gambling Commission only asked the Conservatives to confirm details of the individuals currently under investigation, but did not share further information about any allegations against them, officials added. making it difficult to take internal disciplinary action before the regulator’s investigation is complete.

Other party figures have expressed outrage at their colleagues being investigated by the Gambling Commission. The bet was “extremely stupid and vulnerable”, former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told agency news audio file.

He said such behavior was “unacceptable and whatever happens to them will not be difficult enough in my book”.

An exasperated Conservative Party staffer said the party could not “rest”, adding that it was an “extremely unpleasant story” that had generated too much unfavorable news.

Meanwhile, sitting Conservative MPs fighting for re-election expressed anger at the WhatsApp groups, while some of their colleagues who resigned at the election expressed relief before their decision.

Paula Surridge, a politics professor at Bristol University, said the defeat had created a negative impression of Sunak’s party among some voters. “It reinforces the image of the Conservative Party as always supporting its friends and thinking the rules don’t apply to them,” she said.

For voters, it risks dredging up memories of Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister, when Conservative Party officials – including Sunak – breached Covid-19 restrictions and had to take the fall. criminal penalties, she added.

However, she raised doubts about whether that would encourage voters to switch from the Conservatives to another party. “What it might do on the margins is keep some Conservative voters at home,” Surridge said.

The outrage erupted a day after three different MRP models showed the Tories were heading towards one pathetic failure at the general election, with the least favorable suggestion being that the party will be left with just 53 MPs, while the most favorable prediction is for 155 Conservative MPs on 5 July.

The Conservatives have begun shifting resources away from parts of the country where they hold seats with majorities of around 10,000 votes, seeing them as lost causes. Instead, it is funneling activists and funding to areas that previously attracted larger majorities.

Party officials defended the move, insisting that it makes sense for all political campaigns to deploy their resources as effectively as possible.

While all the polls predict a significant majority for Labour, some Conservative candidates are taking advantage of the large difference in forecasts between the multilevel regression and post-parliamentary polls (MRP) floor, believes the party can turn to the opposition – but not be wiped out.

A minister said: “The MRP is not accurate. This isn’t a presidential election – it’s a ‘how many seats do you have’ election. Can we amass a reasonable number of seats to form a decent opposition? The answer is definitely yes.”

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